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The Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Act 2019 received Royal Assent in October 2019.

The Act created the Parliamentary Works Sponsor Body with responsibility for the restoration of the Palace of Westminster. It was established substantively on 8 April 2020, six months after Royal Assent, after operating in shadow form from July 2018.

Shortly after its formal establishment, in response to the coronavirus pandemic and changed ways of working, the Sponsor Body announced it would review the Programme. Its Strategic Review, recommending a full decant of the Palace of Westminster, was published in March 2021.

Following the Strategic Review, the House of Commons Commission asked the Sponsor Body to assess the impact of maintaining a continued presence in the Palace throughout the works (PDF).

The Sponsor Body prepared an initial assessment of the cost and schedule with the assessment of the impact of a continued presence (PDF). In January 2022, the House of Commons Commission expressed concern (PDF) about the conclusions of this analysis. In February 2022, the Commission proposed replacing the Sponsor Body with a new department of both Houses (PDF) accountable to the Clerks of both Houses and their Commissions. At a joint meeting in March 2022, the Commissions of the two Houses agreed a “new approach to the Restoration and Renewal programme”.

Before this new approach was agreed, the Sponsor Body was to propose an Outline Business Case (OBC) for Restoration and Renewal (PDF), to be voted on and agreed by both Houses of Parliament, before the building works could begin. The target date for delivering the detailed and costed plan to both Houses of Parliament is “as early as possible in 2023” (PDF) with Parliament’s approval of the business case “currently planned for by summer 2023” (PDF). But the Sponsor Body has said there is a high risk that it may not meet this plan. On 20 February 2022, the Mirror reported “Plans to bring a ‘business case’ for the work for MPs to vote on have been pushed from next Summer well into 2024”, following a pause while the governance of programme is changed. Mark Tami, who answers parliamentary questions on behalf of the Sponsor Body, confirmed that work on developing a detailed and costed plan had been paused.

R&R – cost and schedule; and continued presence

While the R&R Programme developed the Outline Business Case, it committed to prepare an initial assessment of the cost and schedule of both the Essential and Intermediate Schemes in 2022.

  • The Essential Scheme concentrates on “critical improvements of the palace, such as removing asbestos, reducing fire risk and replacing essential building services”.
  • The Intermediate Scheme, initially referred to as “Stretch Objectives” or a “do maximum” option, would define the limit of any work that could be done. In the Strategic Review, the Sponsor Body envisaged the Outline Business Case proposing work between the two ‘bookends’ of the Essential and Intermediate Schemes.
  • The House of Commons Commission also asked for an assessment of the impact of maintaining a continuous presence in the Palace.

On 22 February 2022, the Sponsor Body published , Essential Scheme: Initial Assessment of Cost and Schedule; and Continued Presence: Impact Study (PDF). It is “an early-stage assessment of the overall potential cost and schedule of the Essential Scheme of the R&R Programme”.

The Sponsor Body reported the potential cost for the Essential Scheme ranged from £7 billion to £13 billion (excluding VAT), and would take between 19 and 28 years. The Palace would need to be vacated for 12 to 20 years.

Two scenarios for maintaining a continuous presence were considered:

In Scenario 1, Chamber business would initially continue in the Commons Chamber, moving to the Lords Chamber. This would cost from £9 billion to £18.5 billion and take between 26 and 43 years.

In Scenario 2, Chamber business would continue in the Commons Chamber throughout the works. This would cost from £11 billion to £22 billion and take between 46 and 76 years.

All the costs are presented on the basis of a P50-P80 range, ie from a 50% to an 80% probability of the outcome being achieved.

Proposed governance changes

In January 2022, the Sponsor Body provided the House of Commons Commission with its initial analysis of the impact of a continued presence approach on the Programme. The NAO reported (PDF) that the Sponsor Body advised the Commission that it was not currently conducting further work on continued presence. The NAO said that if further work on continued presence was required, appropriate funding for the additional work would be required.

At its January 2022 meeting, the House of Commons Commission considered this analysis (PDF). It “expressed concern about the cost and schedule presented in the initial assessment. It asked the Clerk to provide a paper considering next steps”.

The House of Lords Commission considered the report at its January 2022 meeting. It noted (PDF) “the significant impact on the overall cost and schedule of the options for the House of Commons to maintain a continued presence in the Palace of Westminster during the works, as well as the significant on-site health and safety, fire and security risks, and disruption to parliamentary business, that would result. Accordingly, the Commission agreed not to endorse any further work on the continued presence options and agreed to intimate its position to the House of Commons Commission”.

The House of Commons Commission met again on 1 February 2022, when it proposed changes to the governance and approach of the programme (PDF). It proposed “that the sponsor function should transfer to a new, separate department serving both Houses, with its head formally accountable to the Clerk of the House or the Clerks of both Houses and ultimately to the Commissions”.      Its minutes recorded that “The Commission noted the risks in changing the governance structure and a new approach to the works and agreed to seek independent assurance of the viability in principle of these proposals”.

London Playbook, from Politico, reported that “A government official said: ‘The intention of the proposal at Commission is to enable a more rapid prioritisation of critical work on the Palace and reduce the need for a complete or nearly-complete decant of the Palace … all with an eye on the need for this to get political buy-in from all MPs, and when word got out about a £13bn project lasting 28 years (inc 20 year decant) the mood really shifted.’”

The House of Commons Commission cannot act alone on changes to the statutory arrangements. It confirmed that it would be consulting the House of Lords Commission.

The House of Lords Commission met on 8 February 2022 and agreed (PDF) “to replace the Sponsor Body but not until further consideration had taken place and agreement had been reached on what should replace it, based on independent advice and assurance”.

The two Commissions held a joint meeting on 17 March 2022 to consider “R&R Programme: Next Steps” (PDF). The Commissions issued a joint statement after the meeting. They explained that the meeting was organised “following concerns over the emerging costs and timescales of the existing approach, and programme governance”. They set out a number of parameters that would guide their new approach. They agreed to seek “independent advice and assurance” on the new approach to the works and on proposals to replace the Sponsor Body. They asked the Delivery Authority to “place a high priority on continuing with the already planned programme of intrusive surveys, and other necessary work to inform future decisions, as swiftly as possible”.

They plan to obtain a revised mandate from the two Houses for the works and changes to sponsorship function before the summer recess.

At its subsequent meeting on 21 March 2022, the House of Commons Commission proposed that the Sponsor Body functions should be transferred into Parliament or to a different arm’s length body (PDF).

External reviews

On 24 April 2020, the National Audit Office (NAO) published Palace of Westminster Restoration and Renewal Programme (PDF), a review of the Restoration and Renewal Programme. The review was based on work carried out between January and March 2020 (whilst the Sponsor Body was still in shadow form).

The NAO expected “an outline business case planned to be ready in autumn 2021, and approval from Parliament expected to follow in 2022” but it noted that “Future dates may change as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing at the time of this report”.

The NAO published Restoration and Renewal of the Palace of Westminster: Progress update (PDF), on 21 January 2022.

The Public Accounts Committee held an oral evidence session on 14 March 2022.

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